The Importance of First Impressions

Angela Mangiacasle reports for The Ottawa Citizen April 12, 2003

Curb Appeal is like going on a date – you dress yourself up to make sure you look your best.

When you’re selling a home, the sell starts curbside. Even if you aren’t selling, added curb appeal makes your address a nicer place to call home.

“Curb appeal is No. 1”, says Karyn Elliott, proprietor of CRAZY HOUSE Home Staging of Calgary. She says realtors know this basic truth: If you can’t get them out of the car, you can’t sell them the house.

“As a home stager, curb appeal is the first thing I pay attention to,” says Ms. Elliott. The objective? “The home has to be welcoming.”

For homeowner Denise Taylor, there’s an added challenge. The marketing consultant moved to Ottawa about five years ago. He now wants to sell the house he still owns in Calgary.

But that’s only part of the reason she has hired Ms. Elliott to help prepare his home for sale.

“Most homeowners only know what appeals to them and what they need to know is what appeals to eight out of ten prospective buyers.” Mrs. Taylor says, “You need to know what will appeal to them and you need to know how to make it happen.”

She discovered Mrs. Elliott’s business while searching the Internet for information about how to sell his home, a raised, all-brick, three-bedroom bungalow with a one-bedroom apartment in the lower level.

“Any house that’s being sold can benefit from very, very strategic efforts to improve its appeal to buyers,” Mrs. Taylor says. An expert, he adds, can help the seller make the best choices. “In Karyn’s case, she is knowledgeable about what it is about a house that adds to its appeal and what it takes away from its appeal.”

Appeal starts in the front yard, Ms. Elliott says. Prospective buyers will usually stand for a moment at the front door before it finally swings open. “That’s when they’re really up close and looking,” she says. “And you know the old adage: If you can’t get them in the door, you can’t sell them the house.”

Sellers, she says, should remember three important rules: Repair anything that’s broken or not working properly. Make sure everything is clean. Clear away the clutter.

“If some of that stuff isn’t done, it’s just going to send up red flags saying that maybe you didn’t take care of the major things in your house – the furnace, the plumbing or whatever else, says Ms. Elliott, an interior designer who began her career dressing up model homes for builders in Edmonton during the building boom of the mid-1970’s.

“Who wants to live in this home if it doesn’t look good: Or people will think, ‘How much work is it going to be for me to fix it up? And how much money, time and energy is it going to cost me to do this?’”

Of course, it can cost the vendor money to get the house ready for sale. Ms. Elliott’s home staging service can include everything from a consultation to arranging for cleaning, repairs and painting. She sometimes brings in accessories to dress up a home.

“But it can be hard to convince people that if they spend a little bit of money, they’ll almost always get back their investment if not more, not to mention the fact that it’s going to sell faster”, says Ms. Elliott.

“No one likes selling a home – there’s such stress and anxiety – having people coming into the house, always having to keep it clean, always having to keep toys off the front porch or whatever.”

Sometimes it doesn’t take much effort to add curb appeal with a shiny new mailbox, a handsome light fixture, polished house numbers – even a new welcome mat can have an amazing effect. The front of a home should intrigue and give a tantalizing hint of what might lie inside the front door, Ms. Elliott says.

Bob Wiseman, a Calgary realtor, says, “Curb appeal is kind of like going on a date – you dress yourself up to make a good first impression, because the first impression is a lasting impression.”

Mrs. Taylor agrees: “It is no different than meeting someone in a bar – first impressions are everything. If you don’t make a connection with the house as soon as you get out of the car, how interested will you be in the finding out the personality?”

When shoppers are out to buy a home, they have two goals, says Mr. Wiseman – ultimately, to buy a house, but first of all, to shorten the list of contenders as quickly as possible. Poor curb appeal can keep homes off the short list.

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